Arts & Culture

About British Sign Language choirs

Friday 27 May
About British Sign Language choirs

- May 27 at 12:30 PM

This article is written by Anne Hesketh, Director of Dee-Sign BSL Choir based in Chester, Cheshire.

There are many BSL choirs throughout the UK all doing wonderful work and Dee-Sign Choir is just one of them.

I am a retired member of staff of Deafness Support Network and in 1997 at a time when many Deaf Clubs throughout the UK were struggling and some even closing down, a few of the staff of DSN decided that as well as doing street collections, which no-one really liked doing, they would perform some songs in British Sign Language at the same time.

The response from the public was really good, and lots more money was raised as a result of their efforts. Initially they did this once a year at Christmas time.

Some time later a plea was put out for volunteers to support the group and one by one numbers increased, a name was given to the group DEE (after the river Dee that flows through Chester, and SIGN as that is what we do).

People came on board who were studying BSL as they felt it would help with their studies, Deaf members joined, children joined and the rest is history. The tutor at the time was a social worker working for DSN, who eventually left, and rather than let it falter, I took over.

I don't profess to be a BSL tutor, but I do my best, and we now have two assistant directors with higher qualifications than myself, who are adults with Deaf parents, so our standard of BSL is improving, and with profoundly Deaf members in the choir, we have regular people to ask if we are struggling with a translation. We try to stick to pure BSL and are very mindful of facial expressions and correct lip patterns.

Next year (2017) will be the choir’s 20th Anniversary, and during those 20 years, they have raised over £171,000 to support the local Deaf community and centre.

In 2010 Dee-Sign entered the Jersey Eisteddfod Signing Choirs Competitive Class, held in St. Helier at the Jersey Opera House. This was the first ever competition for signing choirs. They came away winning Gold and their first trophy.

In 2011 they entered again in order to defend their title, this time they also entered a junior choir, again the seniors came away with Gold and the Juniors with Silver.  In 2015 after a three year break due to the cost of going, they entered again, this time winning both trophies and gaining the highest award possible PLATINUM with 90 marks, with their juniors close behind with 88 marks and winning Gold. 

Huge thanks to Dr.Paul Whittaker OBE the adjudicator for his involvement in this venture.

In 2012 Dee-Sign were proud recipients of the MBE 'The Queen's Award for Voluntary Service'. Four of their members attended the Queen's Garden Party and 16 members attended the presentation ceremony at Chester Town Hall where they were presented with a Crystal and Certificate signed by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, and presented by HRH The Duchess of Gloucester. All the choir members also received their own individual Crystals, with their names engraved inside them. 

The choir has also appeared on television four times. 

The junior choir is from age 8 to 16 when they can then move over to the senior choir.  As we require all those that join to have a minimum of Level 1 BSL, we have funded this examination for the juniors, or through donations from organisations like Chester Free Masons.  

Many of our volunteers are teachers, audiologists, social workers, support workers, etc. and what they gain through being members of the choir is carried through into their working lives. Some have left the area and continued teaching and have set up school BSL choirs in their new schools, or are currently trainee interpreters, or have gained employment with DSN so the choir has benefited our volunteers in many ways.

The choir have been asked to visit schools and colleges, carrying out Deaf Awareness sessions on Disability Awareness Days, attended and performed at funerals and weddings at the request of Deaf people. On average they perform at 46 events a year and have 33 practise sessions, we also hold workshops. 

The choir, which currently has 55 members, includes a member with a Hearing Dog for the Deaf and a member with an assistance dog 'Dogs for Good'.  Members are all volunteers, some Deaf, some hard of hearing, some with Deaf children, some with Deaf parents, some students studying BSL and some who simply love music and the joy of expressing it in BSL.

If your Deaf club needs funds, why don't you do something similar?
I am happy to offer guidance to anyone interested in doing so.

 Anne Hesketh, Director 

Dee-Sign BSL Choir is under the umbrella of Chester & District Committee for Deaf People. Reg. Charity 237910